Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No Melo, No Problem


Despite Fab Melo's sudden ineligibility, Syracuse remains a force to be reckoned with in East regional. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Those who are as closely affiliated to St. John's University as I am may kill me for what I'm about to say considering the general sentiment my alma mater expresses toward the subject of this piece, but Syracuse University is in no way hamstrung by this afternoon's declaration that sophomore center Fab Melo would be ineligible to play in the NCAA Tournament.

In fact; based on what I've seen from the Orange over the last two seasons, the top seed in the East regional may be even better without their seven-foot Brazilian.

Melo has definitely come a long way this year following a disappointing rookie campaign, but his absence from the lineup actually does the Orange a favor in that Syracuse becomes more athletic. With Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita combining to replace Melo in the middle of Jim Boeheim's world-famous 2-3 zone defense, Syracuse can get out in transition more often and turn matchups against prospective early-round opponents such as Kansas State, Southern Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Harvard and Wisconsin into their favor. In addition, not having Melo gives the Syracuse backcourt a chance to shine as well. Even though Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche do not have numbers that set box scores on fire, Big East Sixth Man of the Year Dion Waiters; whom college basketball insider Jon Rothstein compares to NBA superstar Dwyane Wade, will get more chances to show the nation his amazing potential.

In the bottom half of the East bracket; Ohio State looks like the team to beat if they can get past Gonzaga or West Virginia, but the Orange have the offensive firepower to withstand two of those schools, as well as Cincinnati, despite losing to the Bearcats in the Big East tournament last week. The one wild card, however could be Gonzaga. The Bulldogs will have to overcome a trip to Pittsburgh; which is a de facto home game for round of 64 opponent West Virginia, but if Gonzaga's own seven-footer Robert Sacre can continue to draw fouls and be a force inside, a potential regional final matchup with the Orange could turn into a trap game.

Either way, those who took Syracuse to make a run in the tournament need not be alarmed; for although most people are revising their brackets out of sheer panic, it does not change the fact that Jim Boeheim's Orangemen (yes, that's an old school reference for those of you scoring at home) are still both the most talented team in their regional and a safe bet to reach New Orleans at the end of the month.

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